Mystery Planes Circle London

Two mysterious planes with no call-signs were spotted circling parts of London yesterday, prompting suggestions that the Metropolitan Police have been eavesdropping on mobile phone calls.

In 2011, the Telegraph reported that one of the aircraft, a Cessna F406 Caravan II with the registration G-BVJT which was seen circling Lewisham, was linked to a Met operation to intercept mobile phone calls. This has led to users of an aviation forum and others speculating that the same aircraft was up to its old tricks once again. The Met has since denied that this was the case.

The second plane, a Piper PA-31 with the registration G-UMMI – again with no call-sign, was seen circling over Romford later yesterday afternoon before heading to Shepherd’s Bush and performing a similar circular pattern. As of yet, this has not been linked to the Met. Both planes were circling at around 10,000ft for several hours.

The reporting of these mysterious planes comes as emergency legislation – which some have labelled a ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – is rushed through the Commons. The Communications Data Bill forces internet service providers and phone operators to store information about customer activity for 12 months at a time. The legislation follows a ruling by the European Court of Justice that the current arrangement was a violation of citizens’ privacy. The emergency bill, which has cross-party support, is the Government’s means of ensuring that the powers already in place can continue to be used in future.

Image of plane G-BVJT used under creative commons licence from Alec Wilson.

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AndyThornley

Article by Andy Thornley | 66 Articles | View Profile

  • http://www.morpheu5.net/ Morpheu5

    I really don’t see the point of using airplanes to eavesdrop on mobile comms. The same signals can be picked up from the ground just as easily — if not more, since those towers are mostly aimed at people on the ground. Plus, G-BVJT seems to have been a rental jet, at least until 2012, according to its flight plans (not sure in this case a call sign is necessary to be displayed on the chassis, registration should be enough for identification).

    But yeah, it’s not like I expect the Telegraph to be a reputable source anyways…

    • James.A

      “The surveillance system has been procured by the Metropolitan police
      from Leeds-based company Datong plc, which counts the US Secret Service,
      the Ministry of Defence and regimes in the Middle East among its
      customers. Strictly classified under government protocol as “Listed X”,
      it can emit a signal over an area of up to an estimated 10 sq km,
      forcing hundreds of mobile phones per minute to release their unique IMSI and IMEI identity codes, which can be used to track a person’s movements in real time.”

      Guardian article: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/oct/30/metropolitan-police-mobile-phone-surveillance

      From Wired;

      “The portable device, which is the size of a suitcase, pretends to be a
      legitimate cell phone tower that emits a signal to dupe thousands of
      mobile phones in a targeted area. Authorities can then intercept SMS
      messages, phone calls and phone data, such as unique IMSI and IMEI
      identity codes that allow authorities to track phone users’ movements in
      real-time, without having to request location data from a mobile phone
      carrier.”

      • http://www.morpheu5.net/ Morpheu5

        Yes, I’m not disputing that, the technology exists and works, clearly. I’m just saying that there’s no point in suspiciously flying in circles over a large populate area if you can do the same thing covertly sitting at any Starbucks, at the sole expense of a bit more man-power (because buildings block signals and you’d get less coverage).

        • James.A

          You can’t cover the same amount of ground by sitting in a starbucks. If you’re trying to locate a certain phone/ use voice recognition software/ get imagery of whomever is using said phone/ track movements of a phone without having to “tail” them in a road vehicle.

          • http://www.morpheu5.net/ Morpheu5

            There’s a ridiculous amount of security cameras all over the country, I suppose that installing such devices inside the little obscured domes would easily cover enough ground, and not sparkle any suspicion at all — after all, they are just upgrading the surveillance system that makes us feel safer while we walk home at night, completely wasted, right?

          • James

            That would cost a lot of money. Which would in turn raise suspicion. A few planes set up to fly at around 10,000ft – no one notices / can prove what is inside.

            Also, this is classified tech. if they were scattered around cities on poles, someone could cut it down, open it up, and reverse engineer it.

          • http://clunking-fist.blogspot.com/ Clunking Fist

            “A few planes set up to fly at around 10,000ft – no one notices”
            au contraire…

          • http://www.morpheu5.net/ Morpheu5

            My point precisely: someone HAS noticed, clearly.

  • Guest

    This seems to have been going on for a while. Here’s one I spotted back in May…

  • Alex.J

    G-BVJT is regestered to “Nor Leasing” – quite obviously a gov op, no civilian aircraft would be permitted to fly like that. Low flying over urban areas / near airports is highly regulated.

    G-UMMI is regestered to 2excelaviation.com , a company run by ex-RAF pilots. Has a sensor fitted much like those on military drones: https://i.imgur.com/VS9tuAA.jpg . Seen frequently doing loops over urban areas. Known to work with government agencies.

    • Alex.J

      Other 2excel planes to looks out for: G-BFIB & G-RHYM

      Other “Nor Leasing” plane: G-TDSA

  • TW1

    As well as these flying low, an Islander can very often be heard flying fairly high over the suburbs at weekends. This is probably from RAF Northolt and has also been alleged to be an eavesdropping aircraft.

  • Kim.S

    2008 Independent article: Unmanned spy planes to police Britain

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/unmanned-spy-planes-to-police-britain-886083.html

  • Demetrius

    Londonist,

    I read your article on this unmarked aircraft, flying around in circles (over London) at 10,000 feet.

    However, this is just the tip of the ice burg.

    Below is an E-Mail I sent some time ago to various newspapers/individuals.

    To set the record straight. These unmarked aircraft/helicopters are not being used by the police, but the intelligence services.

    Even the police must have markings on all their air vehicles.

    Police are just being used as a front in this mysterious saga! And, the American government are funding most of these unmarked aircraft/helicopters.

    ——————————————————————————————————————————————————
    E-MAIL Regarding Unmarked Aircraft/Helicopters

    I wonder if you have been aware/interested in unmarked aircraft/helicopters (mentioned below), which are being used as spy planes to eavesdrop on personal mobile phone conversations & the Internet?

    It seems to me, no one has the tenacity or courage to investigate why these commercial passenger type planes, which are being used as spy/surveillance aircraft, have been flying around in circles for 11 years now.

    The usual replies I get is to write & complain to the CAA/NATS & MOD. However, has I have continuously pointed out….until I’m blue in the face, these aircraft belong to the military, and are therefore not the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority nor the National Air Traffic System…….including the Ministry Of Defence, who have been deliberately ignoring my E-Mails!

    It seems that these aircraft, which just have these bogus flags on their tail fins, I have been pointing out for years, are not commercal passenger aircraft, going into land at Heathrow, they are being used as surveillance/spy aircraft….why?

    No one in authority, is either aware of this, or they just don’t bother trying to find out why so many residents are constantly being woken up 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, by these huge low flying aircraft, that begin flying from 6:00am until 11:00pm at night, that’s 18 hours every day…………..365 days a year, around Tabard Gardens Estate, London, SE1!

    I could perfectly understand if these aircraft were genuine passenger type aircraft going into land at Heathrow, Stanstead or Gatwick. These aircraft are surveillance/spy planes that have been coming from either Farnborough or Manchester..

    I have just written again to Southwark Council, The Surveillance Commissioner& Simon Hughes MP for Southwark/Bermondsey about this problem, for more times than I can remember………….However, I am not holding my breath, for a response to this matter.

    However, a 2011 Telegraph article, only mentions the 3 aircraft that a police officer would admit to, each costing £3 million pounds to buy, including the overall operating costs to the British Tax payers which have never been made public.

    What the Telegraph article fails to mention is all the other unmarked aircraft/helicopters (mentioned above) that I have been writing/complaining about for nearly 10 years now!

    I have just written, once more to Simon Hughes MP, to try and get a proper investigation/enquiry into this matter, underway…….chance, would be a fine thing though…wouldn’t you agree?

    Demetrius Skortou

    • kezz

      Over Liverpool today.

  • dervish

    G-UMMI & G-BFIB both seem to be using UK military hex addresses now which lends weight to their use NOT being police

  • kezz

    Over Liverpool today